WHAT TO DO IN WINTER IN LONDON

Visiting London in winter is one of the best times to visit this fun city – yes, it might be gray and rainy, but in London that can happen at any time. So, visiting in winter means you at least get all the fun winter activities to do.

So, find out about the best things to do in London in winter – where to go and what to see, plus many travel tips for your London winter vacation.

To check out a non-winter London itinerary check out my London travel guide.

DISCLAIMER: THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS – THIS MEANS I MIGHT EARN A SMALL COMMISSION WHEN YOU BUY A PRODUCT/SERVICE (AT NO EXTRA COST TO YOU. MORE ABOUT IT HERE

Christmas by the River / Southbank

Whether you visit in the summer or in the winter, strolling the Southbank is a must-do. However, it is even nicer to stroll the riverside in the pre-Christmas period.

christmas by the River is one of the best places to see in London in winter
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There are bars and cafes to warm up in – and of course, all the beautiful lighting that makes places on a gray day even nicer!

Let’s not forget the views along the way either, but most of all, there are many different activities to do before Christmas. So, you can sign up for winter workshops like creating your own cards (and there are even some children’s activities).

Also, you can walk with the Snowman – it is more than the usual stalls that offer snacks, drinks, and gifts.

Yes, this place is a must-visit in December and it was one of my favorite November/December activities.

Geffrye Museum

Are you looking for some indoor winter activities in London? Then check out a free museum that informs the visitors about Christmas celebrations over the last few centuries.

You’ll find authentically-decorated living rooms and more information on Christmas – and it is completely free to visit.

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

If you happen to visit London in winter, make sure to plan in some time to visit Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

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. Visiting in winter means: enjoying the Christmas markets and eating your weight in snacks, drinking mulled wine and then burning all the extra calories by ice skating at Hyde Park.

BUT it also means rollercoaster rides – so, if you want a bit of a thrill, then hop on one of the illuminated rides.

While it is one of the most popular places to go in winter, I must say that it felt more like a fair than a Christmas market, but kids as well as adults loved it (and it is one of the best free winter activities – however, you must pay for rides and, of course, food and drinks).

Christmas Markets

There are many Christmas Markets throughout London – some are so good they deserve an extra paragraph here. And good news:

As pretty as outdoor London is in winter, sometimes we need to warm up (especially if you don’t drink mulled wine like me), so check out indoor Christmas Markets – or at least the markets that are covered (rain in London is nothing unusual).

Carnaby Street Lights

One of the most beautiful streets to visit in winter is Carnaby Streets. The popular street in Soho, easily reachable from Regent´s Street, is different to the rest of London’s Christmas decorations. 

Carnaby Project Zero in winter London
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Here, you will never find typical Christmas lights though it is always fully decorated. This year it has a political and important message – use less plastic to keep the oceans clean! So, this is why all decorations have been made out of recycled plastic.

And though it seems hardly anyone actually cares in London during Christmas time, it hopefully is a good reminder to use less of plastic and be more conscious of what we consume

Pubs

Winter is the perfect time to spend in pubs. The pubs in England are particularly pretty – often with flowers outside and with Christmas trees and decorations for a festive atmosphere.

I am not a drinker and I am not a pub lover – but I can’t help buy admire the beautiful pubs all over London.

And I have to admit that, especially in the cold winter months, pubs are a good place to spend a few hours (and you can actually have food as it is not only about drinking).

There are even pub walking tours that you can take. 

Ice Skating

As mentioned above, there is one ice rink at Hyde Park, but there are many more that you can visit. So, bring your own skates and hit the ice rink. 

But of course, you can also rent some in case you don’t travel with your own skates.

While there is only one ice rink at Hyde Park, there are many others that are open in December or Januray.

Somerset House

Another must-see place in winter is the Somerset House – and not only because it has an open-air ice rink.

Somerset House in Central London is one of the best places to visit in London
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The ice rink at Somerset House has particularly nice surroundings and with the big Christmas tree, there is surely a lot to see (and eat, thanks to all the little stalls).

Trafalgar Square

If you are into beautifully-decorated Christmas trees, then check out the Trafalgar Square´s Christmas tree that is about 20 meters high (it goes up at the beginning of December and stays until the beginning of January).

It is an annual gift from the people of Oslo (Norway) for the help they received during the Second World War.

If you arrive at the end of November, Trafalgar Square is still worth a visit – the Christmas Market in front of the Victoria Museum is absolutely charming and the view of the Trafalgar Square makes it one of my favorite places after the sun sets and the lights get switched on.

Millennium Bridge

Cross the Millennium Bridge towards St. Paul´s Cathedral – not only because it is one of the best photo locations, but also because you can read some “secret“ messages.

Millennium Bridge in London
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You will find many different messages in different languages – like the one that wishes you a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2020 (in German).

Afternoon Tea Bus 

One of the prettiest buses I saw in London in November/December was the Afternoon Tea Bus – if you are into things that are typically British, then you should do an Afternoon Tea.

And if you are into things that are unique and British, then you should do an Afternoon Tea Bus Tour.

The afternoon tea is offered in a red double-decker bus, which comes with little tables and is beautifully illuminated. Enjoy the afternoon tea while cruising the main attractions of London in around 90 minutes.

What a pity that I am a picky eater (not only because I am veganish) and am reluctant to spend money on food if I don’t know whether I will like it or not because I was quite envious when I saw the bus passing me several times.

Winterville

A bit further from the other winter activities mentioned here is the free pop-up park town,  Winterville.

An entire Christmas Town is here to entertain you and make you feel happy – the Christmas town houses an ice rink, roller disco, fairground, and a cinema.

Harrod´s

Oh, Harrod‘s!

Harrods shopping mall in winter time
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Harrod´s is one of the most iconic shopping malls in the world, and before Christmas, it looks even more stunning and is probably one of the prettiest buildings in the city center.

But it also has stunning Christmas decorations inside – so hop in to see what the Harrod´s fuss is all about.

Rooftop Bars

Rooftops are not only great to visit in summer – they can be a perfect place to spend some time in winter, too.

At least in London. So, for the winter months, some rooftop bars have unique decorations so that you can experience London from above while having a drink.

One rooftop bar to check out is the Queen of Hoxton’s Rooftop, which was inspired by Morocco and the famous Jardin Majorelle (aka the Yves Saint Laurent garden) this year. 

Coppa Club Tower Bridge

For a unique view of Tower Bridge – and a unique dining experience – book an igloo at Coppa Club Tower Bridge.

Coppa Club Igloo is one of the best winter activities
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Bookings needs to be made weeks in advance (especially if you visit during the weekend), and then you and your friends can warm up in the cozy igloos.

Oh, you can even spend New Year‘s Eve here – just plan in advance as it is a popular place.

Yes, I was too late, and though I checked the website more than 1 week in advance, there were hardly any free tables left for dinner.

Shop

If you are into shopping, then London is the perfect place – with its numerous shopping streets and markets, you will for sure find something for your loved ones (or even for you).

Be careful not to go overboard with the many shopping options and don’t buy things you don’t need – which can easily happen with all the temptations.

But if you still need something, then London is the perfect place for some shopping – even after Christmas, as you then have the sales staring in January. 

Covent Garden

Covent Garden is always worth a trip, and so it is, of course, also during the Christmas month.

Covent Garden in wintertime Christmas
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Covent Garden is also one of the busiest places in December – the cafes and restaurants are full of people. And not only people – if you can’t get enough of Christmas trees come to Covent Garden – there are so many trees decorated that you couldn’t even count them (well, kind of).

The main Christmas tree has more than 30,000 lights! But there are also some entertainers (musicians and actors) so it is also a fun thing to do in London with children.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

Th entrance fee for St. Paul’s Cathedral is high – more than $25 if you buy the ticket on the spot. But before Christmas, it is one of the best places to visit (and if you come for the services, it is actually free to visit).

St. Pauls Cathedral in winter
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If you visit on December 23 and Christmas Eve, you can catch the service relayed on a big screen at Paternoster Square next to the cathedral.

I visited once (years ago) and it was mesmerizing – even though it was not shortly before Christmas with its festive atmosphere. However, if you have some money to spend, then why not spend it here rather than on other unnessesary things.

Christmas on the Canals

Take a Christmas canal ride and see London from the water.

Hidden Canal Cruises offers relaxing cruises down the Regent’s Canal in full festive finery for the season.

While I didn’t experience it myself, I suggest doing the cruise with your friends – a fun evening activity during the winter.

Regent‘s Street

The most beautiful street in winter must be Regent´s Street. This popular shopping street is just one of the very best places to visit in London in winter – if not the best.

Regent Streets in London is one best things to do in Decmeber
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While it is extremely illuminated and there is a lot of bling-bling, it still feels classy and not overdone.

If you have only a few minutes in London (I know, sounds ridiculous), then visit Regent´s Street once it gets dark.

Natural History Museum

Whether you want to learn more about natural history or you want to go ice skating: here you can do both and even more.

From the end of October until mid-January, you can skate on the ice rink that is surrounded by fairy lights nestled in frost-covered trees.

Theatre

With the cold comes the wish to stay in cozy, warm, indoor places – so, why not visit a theatre and combine warming up with a Christmas theatre play?

Don’t ask me about my personal opinion as I did not get to visit any (to do all these London winter activities you need more than 48 hours), but The Snowman and Slava’s Snow Show at the Royal Festival Hall are known to be great winter plays.

New Bond Street

After Regent Street the New Bond Street is another must-see in December. The shopping streets are also beautifully illuminated and make this street one of the most beautiful in London.

Christmas decorations in New Bond Street is one of the most beautiful places in winter
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You can easily get there from Regent Street and it is almost as stunning as the Regent Street. 

Museum of Childhood

Another indoor place that is great to see in the winter time is The V&A Museum of Childhood, which is free to visit.

Whether you want to reminisce and think about Christmas gifts we used to get (assuming most of us on this blog are at least 30 years old) or want to do workshops – activities here are free and for most ages.

Little ones can join the interactive storytelling – this is probably one of the best free things to do in London in winter.

Kew in the Dark

This is probably the best thing to do in the winter in London – I can just guess, as it was already fully booked, so I had to pass.

The botanical gardens host a magical nighttime experience, showcasing the sculptures, buildings, and trees in a totally different way. The fairytale walk also has roasted chestnuts and other tempting treats along the route to tempt you off course.

New Years Eve Fireworks

If you visit at the end of the year, then make sure to also stay in London for New Year‘s Eve – it must be magical to welcome the new year in London with all the fireworks.

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 However, to watch the fireworks from the Thames River you have to pay an entrance fee of about $12.

Spa Time

While spa visits are always a good idea, the best time to get pampered is in the cold months. Whether you want to relax before the Christmas stress or just after Christmas, book yourself a spa appointment. We all deserve to spend some time where it is all about us only.

Christmas Lights Bus Tour

Yes, this is another “must-do“ activity in London in December – hop on a Christmas Lights Bus Tour and see most (though not all) of the fun and impressive places that are uniquely decorated.

Christmas Bus Light Tour Regent Street
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Even though the double-decker buses are not heated – and it is cold – it is a great way to see the Christmas decorations from “above“ and within a short amount of time.

Yes, I am not ashamed to admit that I wanted to see all the main Christmas lights, and thus, I additionally booked a light bus tour.

So, do as I did and enjoy a 2-hour bus ride (starting at Victoria Station) and get to see the beautiful, decorative lights all over London while sitting on a bus and relaxing. Check out prices and tours here.

Christmas Lights Walking Tours

Yes, while the bus tour is amazing, you can also do a walking tour and see some other places the bus tour doesn’t cover. Dress warm and wear comfy shoes and get ready to see some of the most beautiful places in London in winter.

I love walking tours and there are many offered in December, January, and February, too. 

So, if you visit London in December, then make sure to join one tour or to plan your walking itinerary yourself carefully, so you don’t miss out on the top spots for festive lighting.

Cycle

London is quite bicycle-friendly – and in the winter time, not that many people cycle, which means you have the cycle lanes almost all to yourself.

Cycling in London in winter
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I would not ride a bike when it‘s icy, but other than that, pay a one-time fee of around $3 for 24 hours and discover London by bike (the city is quite big).

You can use the bike for 30 minutes without any extra fees and can bring it back to any of the numerous docking stations, and immediately rent the bike for the next short bike tour.

This way, you don’t miss out on all the pretty little side streets while still getting around quite fast.

Christmas at Leicester Square

If you are into Bavarian winter Christmas Markets, you can head to Leicester Market. Located in between Covent Garden and Picadilly Circus, this small market is supposed to be a traditional Bavarian market.

While it is cute, I am not sure whether Bavarian Christmas markets are really like that – well, the food and drinks surely have a real heavy and hearty German touch.

Ever After Garden

Whether it is a hidden gem in all the Christmas markets or not – head to Grosvenor Square and get some lovely pictures from the “light tunnel.“ 

Ever after Garden in London is one of the best things to do
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Especially if you can’t make it to Kew Garden, this might be a kind of alternative for your Instagram picture.

You can also donate some money and get a white rose and write a message to one of your loved ones and stick it to the rose. The roses are then displayed and illuminated – it looks beautiful and helps to collect some donations go to the Cancer Center.

LONDON WINTER TRAVEL TIPS

Weather: London in winter will be cold for sure. But it is not always freezing cold – temperatures are around  xxx and some rain, with a little snow, can be expected.

Make sure to dress warm and in layers. With my Wellensteyn jacket, I normally do not need any extra scarf or gloves… If your jacket is not that warm, make sure to bring your scarf, gloves, and a hat. 

Also, waterproof clothes might be a good idea – though English people are used to bad and cold weather and dress even in winter like it is fall or summer, most of us other people are more sensitive to cold.

Public transportation in winter: The best way to get around in winter is via public transportation. Though I recommend some cycling as well, most of the time, you will probably walk or use buses or the underground to get around.

Oyster Card: Buying an Oyster Card makes sense if you use public transportation often. You can load it up with credit and just swipe it in/out at every bus or underground station. In the end, it finds the best rates and calculates the cheapest tickets (so, no need to worry beforehand if a day ticket will be cheaper than single tickets).

And that is just because it is the best way to get around. Don‘t worry about renting a car – there is so much traffic, parking is difficult, and public transportation is too good to worry about driving yourself.

Red bus in London during winter time travel guide
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Accommodations in winter: London in winter, especially in December, can be quite busy and finding good accommodations spontaneously is not that easy. For December, I suggest planning and booking in advance, but it is less busy in January and February.

Luxury Hotels in London:Ritz-Carlton is one of the top hotels – it is also conveniently located in the city center and quite close to Buckingham Palace. Click here for the best rates and more info.

Mid-Range Hotels in London: 3-star hotel Hampton by Hilton Waterloo – find out more about this hotel and get the best rates here.

Budget Hotels in London: This hostel is well-rated, conveniently located and if you book a bed in a dorm you can actually get a bargain. Click here to get the best rates for YHA London Central

Accommodation in London is quite expensive – so even the more budget-friendly places cost a bit or are quite far from the city center.

So, have a great trip to London in winter!

Safe Travels, Arzo
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